Aizawl: To be labelled the ‘Godfather’ of football in a certain region would perhaps be something that would afford some a slightly lofty air. However, Shylo Malsawmtluanga, who is often called the ‘Godfather of Mizo footballers’ due to him being one of, if not the biggest name to emerge as a prominent professional footballer from the Northeast Indian state of Mizoram, is actually humble, taciturn and ever-smiling.
‘Mama’, as he is lovingly called, is therefore an inspiration to all footballers and football fans in his home state. After all, he is the first footballer from the region to don the Indian national team jersey.
Malsawmtluanga single-handedly gave hope to what was previously a dormant footballing state in the north-east of India but is now a powerhouse in the sport. Fellow footballers with their origins in Mizoram like Lalrindika Ralte and Jeje Lalpekhlua followed suit and went on to become stars at a national stage, but very few can match the adulation and respect Malsawmtluanga gets.
In fact, ‘Mama’ now has a stand named after him at the famous Assam Rifles Stadium in Aizwal, the venue of the latest Mission XI Million (MXIM) Festival as a part of the build up to the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017.
In a wide-ranging chat, Malsawmtluanga discussed the upcoming U-17 World Cup in his home nation and what the future holds for India in footballing terms.
Q: With Guwahati being one of the host cities for the FIFA U-17 World Cup, do you think it’ll help football grow in the other parts of north-east India too?
A: It’s a matter of great pride and honour that India is hosting a FIFA tournament later this year. I believe all of us should head to the stadiums to support the teams. Watching such world class players will enthuse kids here further. I believe the Northeast of our country is a hotbed for the sport. The tournament will ensure more and more people here take up football professionally.
Q: As a whole, how do you think the FIFA U-17 World Cup will help the game of football in India?
A: Without a doubt, it’ll be a game-changer. When I was growing up, not too many people dreamed of letting their kids take up a sport professionally. That has changed now and while I believe there’s still time before we become a global superpower in the sport, a youth tournament of this stature will definitely introduce a lot of people to the beautiful game and that should prove pivotal in the years to come.
Q: How can parents, schools and teachers help in making India a footballing giant in the coming years?
A: Let the kids play, that’s about it! Don’t force them to do things they don’t want to. If they want to go to the field every day, let them do that. There’s so much talent in our country, and teachers and parents will play a crucial role if we are to tap in to it.
Q: With a program like MXIM, the aim is to get children to take to football at a young age. What would be your advice to kids who want to play the game?
A: Mission XI Million is a wonderful initiative undertaken by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) and Government of India. To be honest I’m overwhelmed to see more that 7000 kids come and enjoy the game together. It makes me believe that it’ll help produce several quality players in the years to come. As for the kids, my only advice is to enjoy the game, take it one day at a time, listen to your heart and follow your passion. Trust me, if I can do it, you can too.
Q: A word about your relationship with Mizoram and being called the ‘Godfather of Mizo footballers’?
A: (Laughs) I am humbled by the love and adulation showered by all the Mizo people for me. The state has really established itself as a cradle for footballers in our country and I’m proud to have played a small part in it.
Q: What are your own future plans? Do you plan on getting into coaching?
A: Coaching would involve retiring! I’m not ready for that just yet.